For many years I struggled with how to combine two of my main interests, Zen and work. I had read that the Zen mind is the mind before thinking, so it seemed like Zen and work must be totally unrelated. But over time I came to understand phrases like, “When working, just work.”
This article contains a collection of quotes that have been helpful to me in understanding the relationship between Zen and work. Please note that I don’t wrap each quote in double quotes, and I also try to attribute each quote to the correct author/speaker. If you’re interested in how to combine Zen and work, I hope you’ll find them helpful.
“When you see a plum blossom, or hear the sound of a small stone hitting bamboo, that is a letter from the world of emptiness.”
A quote from a Lion’s Roar article, Shikantaza is Understanding Emptiness.
“The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.”
~ Robert Pirsig
In terms of being a nice person, Steve Jobs may have been the worst Buddhist in the history of the world, but he captures the Zen/Buddhist essence in this quote:
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Photo from forbes.com, words from Steve Jobs.
“Truth waits for eyes unclouded by longing.”
I keep running into various versions of this quote (from sources like the Tao, Ram Dass, and Zen books), so I thought I’d share it here. All sayings like this mean that if you become like a clear mirror and view the world exactly as it is — not how your desires (and fears) want it to be — you’ll see the truth.
This is a favorite quote from the book, Zen Training. Anyone who has ever meditated deeply at home, in the mountains, or on retreat has probably had these feelings.
“On one occasion of my own practice, nearing deep samadhi, I happened to notice that the stage of my mind was quietly turning and a new scene was appearing. In this new scene no wandering thought popped up its head; there was absolute stillness and silence, as if one had landed on the Moon.”
From a translation of the Tao Te Ching:
The master, by residing in the Tao (the Way),
sets an example for all beings.
Because he doesn’t display himself,
people can see his light.
Because he has nothing to prove,
people can trust his words.
Because he doesn’t know who he is,
people recognize themselves in him.
(I recommend that third stanza in particular for people who are interested in consulting.)
“How can we prevent our thoughts from wandering? How can we learn to focus our attention on one thing?”
“The answer is that we cannot do it with our brain alone; the brain cannot control its thoughts by itself. The power to control the activity of our mind comes from the body, and it depends critically on posture and breathing.”
~ From the book, Zen Training, by Katsuki Sekida